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Will massive Juanes concert in Havana stir winds of change?

The star-studded jamboree organized by Latin pop idol Juanes drew the biggest crowd in Cuba since Pope John Paul II visited in 1998.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 21, 2009

Colombian singer Juanes performs during the "Peace Without Borders" concert in Havana's Revolution Square on September 20. Half a million people jammed into Havana's Revolution Square on Sunday for a concert by Colombian singer Juanes and other mostly Spanish-language pop stars who hope music can do what politics has not -- bring together Cubans here and in the United States.

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Sunday's "peace concert" headlined by Colombian singer Juanes in Havana elicited death threats to the Latin Grammy-award winner, Miami rallies where protesters smashed his CDs, international arguments over politics and music in Cuba, and even a comment from President Obama.

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But the day after hundreds of thousands poured into Havana's Revolution Square to get their groove on to the sounds of Juanes and other top Latin stars – after weeks of debate and media frenzy leading up to the event – the question looms: Will it help shift the political tides that separate Cuba from much of the rest of the world?

For many longtime Cuba watchers, the answer is no. "These events don't do anything because the day after, even the hour after, everyone goes to their home and the situation stays the same," says Alejandro Rios, an observer of Cuban culture and head of the Cuban Film Series at Miami Dade College.

Juanes, who lives in Miami and has won 17 Grammys, was joined on stage by 14 artists from around the world, including Olga Tañón of Puerto Rico and Miguel Bose of Spain. It was Juanes's second "Peace without Borders" concert. The first took place on the Colombia-Venezuela border after tensions flared between the two nations last year.

"I can't believe what my eyes are seeing," Juanes said from the stage Sunday, describing the crowd, which organizers estimated at over a million, as a "beautiful dream."

Largest gathering since the Pope's visit?

It is not the first time international artists have played in Cuba since Fidel Castro turned the island nation into a communist state half a century ago. But, while the number of attendees could not be verified, this was billed as the largest gathering from an international visitor in Revolution Square since Pope John Paul II visited in 1998.

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